Cloud Tech and the Software Defined TV Paradigm

By Sachin Sathaye

TV Takes to the Cloud(s) For pay TV, the hardest step to take in creating a fully software defined TV environment has been the last one - virtualization of the the set-top boxes and connected devices in the customer premises. While headend, distribution and access network functionality have been virtualized at a rapid pace, overcoming the dependencies of CPE was impossible until recent years, when the cloud has taken a leading role in enabling new TV experiences.

Since the first cloud UI deployments two years ago, the evolution of cloud-based user experiences has happened at the speed of Internet innovation. At CES this year, Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR) unveiled the first pay TV guide to be streamed from the cloud to any set-top box - using technology that Charter President and CEO Tom Rutledge said "can take any kind of device and turn it into a sophisticated device." The next steps - even more radical in the pay TV landscape - are not only to deliver cloud UIs that can improve search and discovery across linear, on-demand and online content, but also to use the same foundational technology to deliver the online content itself.

Three factors - changes in consumer behavior, the proliferation of online video, and consumer expectations for consistency of service across all devices - are driving technology architecture shifts that collectively are creating an environment of software defined TV. These include:

  • Network and device virtualization, including software-based transcoding and content processing, virtualization of network transport and routers, and virtualized applications execution environments
  • Dynamic media adaptation, including content ingest, transcoding and delivery as well as metadata management and cloud-based DRM
  • Migration to all-IP networks from QAM or IPTV delivery, creating a common architecture for cable, IPTV and mobile video delivery

For operators, virtualizing not just metadata, but also the functionality of the set-top box in the cloud has emerged as a key to creating Web-like environments on any set-top box or connected device. Cloud-based rendering of user interfaces and real-time translation of video and content security formats are enabling operators to deliver experiences that can help pay TV convert online video providers from competitors to partners that increase customer value.

Early cloud UI platforms simply rendered HTML5 user interfaces in the cloud and delivered them as MPEG video to pay TV set-tops. The latest generation renders online UIs in the cloud and stitches them with content that has been manipulated in the cloud so that the video and security formats are compatible with pay TV set-tops. The entire experience is delivered as a single video stream via a managed network channel to existing set-tops.

Initial deployments of cloud-based user interfaces by Ziggo indicated that greater ease of use and improved navigation for on-demand content could improve year-over-year ARPU by nearly 6%. In Eastern Europe, delivery to more than 500,000 existing set-tops of cloud-based UIs and content is exceeding expectations for Liberty Global's (NASDAQ:LBTYA) UPC Hungary system. The ability to navigate through the YouTube Leanback interface and to access the full library of YouTube content has attracted initial viewership of nearly 70% of available subscribers and repeat viewership of 83%, while generating TV-like average engagement of 45 minutes per session.

While the need to deliver user experiences that meet increased customer expectations has been a primary driver of pay TV's move to the cloud, the industry has identified two other benefits: First, the ability to improve the customer experience without the cost or time to market of replacing existing set-top boxes with new, high-end set-tops; and second, the ability to develop and deploy new services in days, rather than weeks or months. Using the current 4.3 million subscriber base of Charter Communications as an example, MoffettNathanson has estimated that a cloud-based strategy, rather than deployment of high-end boxes in each home, would reduce set-top capex by $1.9 billion and would reduce total cost to $750 million from $3 billion.

Where cloud-based user experiences go from here is still to be determined. In a software defined TV world, the limitations on what content can be delivered from what sources to what devices are being eliminated. Without those barriers, operators are more able than ever to accelerate the innovation and new service delivery that will meet the expectation of consumers - now and in the future.

Sachin Sathaye is vice president, product strategy and marketing, for ActiveVideo. Reach him at

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

Related Articles

Cable ONE

2 More AZ Towns Get Cable ONE Gigabit

October 7, 2016

Cable ONE (NYSE:CABO) is expanding its GigaONE gigabit Internet footprin...


Comcast Launches Enterprise IoT Trial

October 6, 2016

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) announced machineQ, a business trial venture focu...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Enhancing Revenues by Mining Subscriber Data

Enhancing Revenues by Mining Subscriber Data

October 2016

Cable operators have long collected data on the operation of their networks. Such data has helped warn of impending problems or assisted in overcoming failur...

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.